Scenic California by Car: The Tahoe – Yosemite Loop

Scenic California by Car: The Tahoe – Yosemite Loop

Want to combine an unforgettable road trip with whitewater rafting?  This scenic drive takes you from the mesmerizing blue waters of Lake Tahoe to the raging waterfalls of Yosemite and back. Along the way, pass over stunning mountain passes, stop for some whitewater action, stretch your legs on a hike or two and enjoy a dip in a natural hot spring.  Here’s the route…

Gateway Lake Tahoe:  Plan a day at the beginning or end of your trip to drive the 72-mile loop around the lake and take in the stunning vistas and charming mountain towns along the way. Don’t miss your chance to get out on that crystal clear water. Pull over at one of the many outfitters around the lake and rent a sea kayak or stand up paddleboard for the afternoon.

South Lake Tahoe to Lotus:  From “Big Blue” head west on US-50 through the El Dorado National Forest to CA-49 where you’ll head north for a slight detour to the idyllic rafting community of Lotus. Got some time to spare? Join O.A.R.S. for a one-day whitewater rafting adventure on the Middle or South Fork of the American River.

Lotus to Yosemite National Park:  From Lotus, continue south along CA-49 past iconic gold rush towns like Angels Camp and Sonora. In Sonora, take CA-108W to CA-120E which takes you into the park. Recommended Yosemite hike if you’ve only got one day: Nevada Falls via The Mist Trail. Go early to avoid the crowds. Unsure about going solo? Sign up for a guided hike or overnight trip with Yexplore (

 Yosemite to Tahoe: Exit the park via Tioga Road/CA-120E. Find your way onto CA-395N, a stretch of road known for its sweeping mountain views and hidden hot springs. Travertine Hot Springs near Bridgeport is worth the stop as you make your way back to Tahoe.


  • Kala

    Thank you for this, great tips.

  • Jan Drumm

    Hi we are coming out west to Lake Tahoe from US 50 and would like to go to yosemite and back. How long will it take to do the loop.

    • Cari_Morgan

      When are you visiting, Jan? California received record snowfall this past winter so it’s a bit of an unusual summer here. Hwy 120 through Yosemite isn’t even open for the season yet and there isn’t an estimated opening date as of right now. Typically though, if Tioga Pass was open and you were to drive this loop straight without stopping, it would require about 10 hours. You’d definitely want to build in time for a more leisurely trip though because it’s such a spectacular part of the country. Hope this helps!

  • Manon Desrosiers

    Hi, my friend and I want to drive from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite. What road would you recommend? I’m not sure what’s roads might still be closed. Thanks so much!

    • Cari_Morgan

      Hi Manon – In the summer months, all passes are open and usually remain open until the end of September (weather dependent). If you’re not doing the loop suggested above, Hwy 120/Tioga Pass is the most direct. But if you have some time to spare, Sonora Pass (Hwy108) or Ebbetts Pass (Hwy4) are very cool drives, as well, and will get you there, albeit a lot slower. Enjoy!

      • Manon Desrosiers

        Thanks for the reply Cari! We would be going the week of 10/8. Do you know where we can check if the roads are clear. Thanks again for your help.

  • Elizabeth Kearney

    I will be traveling from San Francisco to Yosemite by train and bus. I was wondering if it is possible to take a train from Yosemite to Lake Tahoe.

  • Celina Han

    Hi I would be travelling from Yosemite to South Lake Tahoe in Apr, may I know which route would e the best and most scenic for me to take? THANK YOU

    • Cari_Morgan

      Hi Celina – In April many of the mountain passes through the Sierra will typically still be closed, including Tioga Pass, which would be one of the more scenic routes to take to South Lake Tahoe. You may have to go quite a ways out of the park through the Hwy 120 park exit to Groveland down to the cute little town of Sonora where you can hop on Historic Hwy 49 and take that north charming little Gold Country towns like Angels Camp. From here, you can possibly cross over the Sierra to Tahoe via Hwy 88 or you might have to go all the way up to Hwy 50 depending on show conditions. You really have to pay attention to road closures and weather reports that time of year. Here’s a link where you can access current CA road conditions:

  • Carlos Manuel Quintero M

    Hi, I am planing to drive from Yosemite to lake Tahoe in mid November, wich part of the loop seems to be more scenic and turistic? I am a little concerm about driving with snow?
    Thanks for your advice.